2019 BLOG II: Bangkok, Thailand

T and W picked me up for lunch at his school friend’s restaurant beside the klong. We ate as though we were in danger of imminent starvation—an excellent green curry, a rice dish with a spidery green vegetable, eggplant with mackerel, a disappointing crab omelet that was bland and boring, a pomello salad with a little too much sauce for my taste and two more things I can’t remember. For dessert we had melon and toast, which sounds odd and uninteresting.  The melon was thickened to an avocado consistency, very sweet but good, a bit like jam.  But the meal was oddly off register, like one of those colored pictures in a childhood book, because the owner wasn’t there.  She keeps things in true.

W mentioned that his mother has stopped going to the gym and now needs a nap in the morning as well as one in the afternoon. This does not bode well but perhaps she is ready to leave the party.  That’s okay.

Their son is going to be doing an MA in architecture at Columbia.  He’s an ambitious man and works hard to find his luck.

As we talked, outside the window of the restaurant I could see the tops of passing boats and the arched branch of a flame tree covered with blooms as though a host of scarlet butterflies hovered above the dark, crooked joints of the bark.

The next day I had lunch with M who, she really is amazing, has been offered a position as financial officer with a Japanese firm.  She has no training in this field; although over the years, as she and J have run restaurants, she has learned accounting, but this position, I think, includes financial planning.  She trained as a university teacher of English. I admire the two of them because they are always willing to reinvent themselves. And they have had to.  The failure of their last venture and a rascally partner has left them in debt.

But I am amused at her.  She is always asking, “Why?  Why did this happen to me?” I point out to her that it’s a silly question, that there is no answer. Apparently J responds similarly. They are both willing and open; therefore they see opportunities others would not.

I washed my hair when I came home.  As I was rinsing it with my eyes clamped tight against the invasion of soapy water, I felt something scamper across my right foot.  Startled, I opened my eyes to see a midsized American Water Bug, this is different from the little kitchen roach, struggling to safety through the rising waters across my toes. Unfortunately, he died anyway.  I found him in a crevice near the door lintel of the bathroom.

I grew up with the usual American bug phobia but one year when I stayed into the monsoon season in Bangkok I realized I had better get over it since large bugs are part of monsoon life.

I really got over it when I went on a boat from the coast of Sumatra to the island of Nias. Susan, with whom I was traveling, and I paid for the use of the first mate’s cabin, a space you could not stand up in, its floor covered with coconut matting, its windows unglazed and open to the sea.  It seemed okay and a good enough place to sleep in since we wouldn’t arrive in Nias until the next morning. But once the little ship started to move everyone who had been hiding in the woodwork had to come out or be crushed by the movement of the ship’s timbers. Susan and I discovered that we were in the company of a multitude of large roaches.  I pointed out to her, seeing she was on the brink of a good scream, that there was no point in reacting emotionally to this.  It just was.  She, agreeing, pointed out in turn how the crew, whom we could see working in the cabin in front of our room, ignored the bugs who walked over their feet or landed on their shoulders.  They just shrugged them off.

It was still unnerving to watch them marching back and forth about four inches above our heads, searching for a safe place to hide.  Somehow we did sleep that night but it was a very tense sleep.

It had been another 100-degree day.  The coronation ceremony, therefore, took place at night.  Everything everyone was wearing was warm and heavy. There was a sort of garden of hats. There are the common military hats but also bright blue, black and red modified busbies, not bear skin, not as large as the British original, but certainly not air-conditioned. Some of the troops wear black and gold hats in the bud shape that is the leitmotif, or so it seems to me, of the coronation.

The King, of course, had the most spectacular headgear.  There was a picture on the front page of the Bangkok Post of him in a towering, many tiered, gold, naturally, intricately figured affair with a strap under his chin.  You would need that strap and perhaps other help to keep the tower, about three or four feet of it, from crashing down to the front, back or to either side.

Last night on the procession from Wat Phra Keow to Wat Rachabopit, at an incredibly slow, stiff, ceremonial march—even the horses are trained to walk at a slow, slow pace—with soldiers before and behind him, he rode seated on a gold chair, on a palanquin supported on the shoulders of twelve men.  He wore scarlet stockings below gold embroidered traditional trousers that end just at the knee and a heavily gold encrusted black coat. Topping it all off was a black wide brimmed sort of cowboy hat—surely this is not an ancient part of his outfit—with a gold rim around the brim and a waving white plume. The band that accompanied him had Western instruments, its red and black uniforms with red busbies, rather English. On either side, and a little behind the palanquin, were men each with a gold palm leaf on a long staff.  From time to time they would swing the palm leaf around.  This was not to fan the King, just a ceremonial gesture.

The crowds on either side of the street in yellow shirts waved Thai flags and the yellow flag of the monarchy.  They all smiled for the camera.

The next day I had lunch with Kai who is semi-retired, at one of his favorite Japanese restaurants in the Paragon’s basement. He and Noi went to Germany and Switzerland this spring. They had a good time but, as Kai said, they “traveled like maharajas,” spending too much money.  Kai is still struggling to separate from his business. How do you give up being the most famous couturier in Thailand? The saddest thing he said was, “You can’t love anyone for your whole life.” That isn’t true but many people find they can’t.

I spent the rest of the day rearranging my entry into Japan.  I thought I was coming into Narita at 10:30 in the evening, which would mean I would never get to the hotel in Roppongi before midnight.  I canceled my first night at the hotel in Roppongi and Daryl, my HK travel agent, got me a reservation at a hotel at the airport, Narita. I also had an acute spasm of angst because I received a notification about a hotel in Kyoto where I thought I had cancelled my reservation.  Why they notify you about a reservation you have cancelled I can’t fathom. It was all very stressful.

At the gym I ended up in conversation with two of the steady exercisers and learned their names—Muu and Lek. Muu studied in the US where she had a roommate who renamed her Jessica. I suspect the name Muu was too much for young Americans. The other is Lek, easy to remember because I lived next door to the Lek Guesthouse in the days when I stayed in Banglampoo. Lek, which means small, was the baby of the family. She is a businesswoman and asked me what my business had been. When I told her I had taught at university and had written, she was taken aback. I don’t think she can imagine anyone NOT being in business. Probably like someone I know in the US, she can’t believe that people are paid to write. They gave me their emails.

In the newspapers I saw at the gym there were pictures of regular elephants and the white elephants doing obeisance to the King.  One of the mahouts was a woman.

I went to BNH, got my Prolea shot for my osteoporosis and was charged $500 for it and a lecture from the doctor about side effects. N is going to look into this charge. It is outrageous, but I need that shot. They give you the shot in your stomach.  It doesn’t hurt, but the nurse, very young, with big round steel framed glasses said, “One, two three,” before jabbing me.

I had a comedy at the Kiehl’s counter in the Paragon.  I wanted a bottle of hair conditioner but they had pasted a notice in Thai over the English instructions—after all they didn’t need them. I wouldn’t buy the conditioner unless I read the instructions. We went through all the available bottles.  All had the sticker. Finally, we peeled the sticker off one and I bought it.

The next day I went to the airport in plenty of time for my 2 pm plane to Tokyo to find that it had left at 2 am. I have done this once before, the first time I went to Thailand. In that case I arrived a full day after I was supposed to leave. Such are the wages of Fear. I got a new ticket to leave that night at 10:55, found a place where I could rent by the hour a room to sleep in. It was air-conditioned to an Antarctic state but I slept for four hours, lay about for two and got on my plane for Tokyo.

3 thoughts on “2019 BLOG II: Bangkok, Thailand

  1. Dear Karen — didn’t you have Croton water-bugs once in a while when you lived in NYC? Bugs are frightful anywhere! I love your descriptions of scenes and people but wonder whether you are safe as you travel without a constant companion. Love– see you on your return —


  2. Wonderful descriptions of the coronation; this Thai version of pomp and circumstance does indeed leave the British royal family and their various shenanigans for dead. I like insects except for cockroaches and Sydney abounds in various versions of cockroach. I now resist fumigation. They are, after all, living creatures. When I studied arboriculture my tree surgeon teachers were enthusiastic about all insects, discouraging the use of pesticides.They also said DO NOT clear any more land, enough trees have been chopped down. It stuck in my heart.
    You had one or two obstacles to deal with…you dealt with them as you had to…feel the fear and do it anyway…
    I am enjoying your trip, my friend. Love


  3. Roaches are man’s (women’s) best friend. They were here first and will outlive us anyway. I never could get rid of mine in NYC. At least the Thai ones are more exotic.
    Caught the coronation – or bits of it- on the tele. I have never seen such an elaborate ceremony. They really know hot to put on a show. How fortunate to get if first hand.
    Well there are always bumps and turns in the road to Nirvana. Seems to me that you are pretty good at seamlessly walking through the fear.
    Besos de BCN


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